Commentary: Communities, together, can fight litter and dumping

By Michelle Feldman

and Beth McConnell

No matter the neighborhood, Philadelphians are frustrated by the constant battle against litter and illegal dumping. Our neighborhood commercial corridors, residential blocks, parks, and playgrounds should be clean and free of debris that is unattractive and unsafe, and can hinder economic development and community pride.

Active and engaged residents and businesses that work to improve our neighborhoods, including community-based organizations ranging from civic associations to community development corporations and business improvement districts, need support to win the battle against litter. Supporting those hyper-local entities is at the core of our work at Keep Philadelphia Beautiful and the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations.

That's why last year, along with the city's Commerce and Streets Departments, as well as the Philadelphia chapter of the Local Initiatives Support Corp., we began convening leaders of community-based organizations to discuss challenges and solutions, think through ways to partner on a citywide level, and inform training and panels that would make a tangible difference fostering and maintaining clean and safe neighborhoods.

It's easy to think of litter as a simple issue. A person drops something on the ground, right? But our convenings continue to illuminate just how complicated it is to identify the causes and formulate solutions.

Although every neighborhood is different, we've learned that certain drivers of litter and challenges in solving the problem resonate across the city, including: vacant lots serving as magnets for illegal dumping; transit stops where individuals stand and wait for extended periods of time; limited resources for consistent cleanup efforts and enforcement; and apathy.

When you see a clean street, park, or vacant lot, it's often due to effective business and residential outreach and education, resources for sustained cleanup efforts, enforcement, trash can placement and access, and proper receptacles. Many community groups are employing similar, effective antilitter tactics in a holistic manner, including youth engagement, coordination with city agencies, education and outreach tailored to the particular landscape of a neighborhood, and successful fund-raising for continual cleaning and litter removal efforts.

Other themes have emerged from our gatherings. First and foremost, we are all responsible for creating a cleaner city - not just city agencies and nonprofit organizations like ours, but residents and business owners as well. It starts with individual responsibility. Taking pride in the neighborhood where we live is everyone's civic duty. We have to work with government to ensure that everyone is doing his part.

To truly create and maintain a cleaner Philadelphia, community organizations and the city must continue to work together to encourage all Philadelphians to pitch in, from properly setting out trash each week to organizing a cleanup or becoming a block captain.

What can residents do to help?

First, learn about resources and programs designed to help keep neighborhoods clean. Visit www.keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org/resources to get started.

Second, get involved and take on a leadership role. Contact either of our organizations to find which organizations serve your neighborhood, and then help them do the hard work of cleaning and greening, talking to neighbors, and building an antilitter plan.

While quality-of-life concerns such as litter can seem intractable, we are constantly inspired by the network of public servants and community leaders who work tirelessly to keep our city clean. Our groups and our partners are excited to continue bringing these dedicated individuals together to keep up the fight against litter and dumping.

Michelle Feldman is the director of Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (www.keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org). michelle@keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org

Beth McConnell is the policy director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (wwwpacdc.org). bmcconnell@pacdc.org

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